Research 2005


12 22 05 Asian Elephants: With Maturity, Chemical Balance
During musth, male Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) produce a cocktail of phermones to advertise their mating status. New research shows that this recipe is delicately concocted—more mature males impress females by including a balance of two different versions of a particular pheromone.

11 24 05 Ants’ Chemical Stop Sign
Foraging Pharaoh’s ants (Monomorium pharaonis) have evolved a clever ‘stop sign’ to inform their nestmates of unrewarding paths according to a Brief Communication in the 11 24 05 Nature. Researchers have long known that ants communicate via attractive trail pheromones, leading their fellow ants to food or water. But this research shows that they use opposing signals to warn of barren trails.

11 01 05 Ultrasonic Mouse Calls Resemble Bird Song

Scientists have long known that mice emit alarm calls at human-audible frequencies and that they also squeak in ultrasound. Now researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have used customized software to slow and pitch shift the ultrasonic squeaks, and find that they sound remarkably like bird song. Furthermore, the mouse songs contain structure similar to bird songs and individual males sing distinguishable songs in response to the odor of female urine.

Washington University has a press release that includes audio and links to several popular reports of the research. The research was published in the December Public Library of Science Biology.

10 02 05 Sea Lampreys Respond to Pheremone
The sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) produces a pheromone that attracts adult sea lampreys to spawning sites.

09 15 05 Bee’s-eye View of Fluorescent Flowers
Some brightly colored but night-blooming flowers (Mirabilis jalapa) might use fluorescence to attract pollinators, according to research reported in the 09/15/05 Nature.

07 29 05 Neotropical Bird “Sings” With Wings
Males of the new-world species the club-winged manakins (Machaeropterus deliciosus) produce a call using their wings and specialized feathers. Flipping their wings up over their backs, the birds rapidly tap the wings together.

06 23 05 Chickadee Calls Carry Information About Predators
Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) use a sophisticated signaling system to warn other chickadees not only if a predator is moving rapidly, but also to transmit information on the degree of threat posed by stationary predators of different sizes. (Also see The Why Files Warning calls: Bird do it)

05 13 05 Canaries Show Surprising Flexibility in Song Learning
Scientists succeeded in teaching young male canaries to accurately imitate computer-generated songs that were unlike natural canary songs. But as the males reached breeding age, they began singing songs structured more like normal adult canary songs. “Given the many parallels in the ways in which birds and humans go about vocal learning, there may also be common neural mechanisms underlying the ways in which they can access and sequence the learned vocal units,” the researchers write in the May 13 Science.
“Freedom and Rules: The Acquisition and Reprogramming of a Bird’s Learned Song,” by Timothy J. Gardner, Felix Naef, Fernando Nottebohm

05 12 05 Honeybees’ Waggle Dance Verified
A new study provides strong evidence of the effectiveness of the ‘dance language’ used by honeybees to describe to other hive members the whereabouts of a food source. By radar tracking bees that observed these waggle dances, researchers show that the instructions do work, but not with pinpoint accuracy.

04 28 05 Social Bird Learns Kin Recognition
Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) chicks learn specific calls from the adults that rear them in the nest; they use this information to discriminate between kin and non-kin.

04 25 05 Songbird Color Vision: Attracting Mates, Avoiding Predators
Differences in color vision allow songbirds to be less obvious to predators yet maintain their attractiveness to other songbirds.

03 29 05 Two New Books on Birdsong

Understanding Birdsong—and Its Fans: WHYY’s Terry Gross interviews Donald Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong and Don Stap, author of Birdsong. Audubon also has an article about Kroodsma’s book.

03 24 05 Elephants Learn to Mimic
Researchers have observed two African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) imitating sounds from their environment. In one case the elephant imitates the sound of a truck, in the other the sound of female Asian elephants (Elephas maximus).

03 24 05 Female Fish Wise up to Males’ Sexual Shows
Males of several species of Goodeinae, a group of fish that live in central Mexico, carry yellow bands on their tails to entice females. These bands have evolved from a ‘sensory trap’ to an ‘honest signal,’ researchers report.

03 07 05 Monkeys’ Cries for Help Related to Two Brain Systems
How distressed rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) cry out for help may be related to the balance of their perception of threat and their drive for affiliation, researchers report.

02 16 05 Parasitic Wasps Find Hosts by Odor
Parasitic wasps (Trichogramma brassicae) tap into an intimate butterfly communication system to sniff out appropriate host butterflies before hitching a ride with them to their egg-laying sites

02 16 05 Early-morning Rustiness Helps Birds Practice Song
Sleep helps young birds master the art of song. But it does so in a surprising way—when birds wake up they are worse than before they went to sleep, but then improve markedly during their morning’s practice.

01 20 05 Cuttlefish fathers use disguise
In the giant Australian cuttlefish, (Sepia apama), small males can mate by disguising themselves as females. Researchers used DNA fingerprinting of eggs to prove that the strategy succeeds.

01 20 05 Predatory fish changes its stripes
The aptly named fangblenny fish (Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos) can disguise itself as the harmless bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus), but can swiftly reveal the second electric-blue stripe of its normal, non-mimetic appearance.